Japan’s national security strategy is good news for Indo-Pacific
A bold Japan is good for the Indo-Pacific. That is what its revised National Security Strategy released in December aims to achieve.
After demonstrating decisive leadership in shaping Indo-Pacific’s geoeconomic architecture, Tokyo is now making a compelling case on security. A bold Japan is good for the Indo-Pacific. That is what its revised National Security Strategy (NSS) released in December aims to achieve.
Tokyo’s intent is clear. It is determined not to allow unilateral change of status quo by force in the Indo-Pacific and do what it takes to defend the core tenets of a rules-based order. It is doubling down on comprehensive national power, anchored by diplomatic, defence, economic, technological and intelligence capabilities.
Months of intense domestic debate on shoring up deterrence has culminated into the first revision of the NSS, alongside the unveiling of National Defence Strategy and the Defense Build-up Program.
Revisiting the US-Japan Defense Guideline is the logical next step. This could be the centre piece of Prime Minister Kishida Fumio’s conversation with President Biden during the US-Japan summit. The marked shift in the China narrative will also be front and centre in Japan’s high powered diplomacy this week in Washington as well as in some G7 capitals.
While the domestic conversation between the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito in the run up to finalising the Strategy weighed the usage of “threat” versus “challenge” vis-à-vis China, there is no doubt that Beijing is front and centre in Tokyo’s strategy and defence planning.
Unlike the maiden 2013 NSS, the 2022 edition designates China as an “unprecedented and the greatest strategic challenge”, a position aligned with Washington’s threat assessment, thus enabling deeper coordination of goals and operations for defence planners. Tokyo’s strategic calculations in rejecting the emergence of a Sino-centric regional order are deeply anchored in its alliance with Washington. This is complemented by a universal values-based multi-layered network of allies in the Indo-Pacific including Australia, India, Southeast Asian and European powers.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine accelerated some of the trends which were already there in the security conversation. From counter-strike capabilities to doubling defence spending to 2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and economic security, Japan has articulated refreshing confidence in its strategic documents as it stares at three fronts in its threat assessment — China, North Korea and Russia.
The urgency in national security debate on maintaining a favourable military balance is palpable as Japan sits on the frontline of East Asian security. The defence build-up is anchored on seven pillars — stand-off defence, integrated air and missile defence, unmanned defence, cross-domain operation, command and control/ intelligence-related functions, mobile deployment, and sustainability and resiliency. Despite navigating a few domestic political setbacks, Kishida did not distract from the responsibility of bolstering the nation’s defence capabilities within the realms of post-war constitution as well as international law.
The rewiring of NSS started in the final days of the Abe Shinzo administration in 2020 as the 2013 version predated the US-China disorder, the emergence of free and open Indo-Pacific concept, the resurrection of Quad, and the pandemic. Kishida took the process further last month with the new strategy and the unveiling of the Global Combat Air Programme for sixth-generation fighter with the United Kingdom and Italy.
But Kishida’s task is far from over. The LDP’s internal discourse on the merits of tax hikes and bonds reflects the colossal challenge of supporting the target of a $315 billion budget in the next five years.
In a major stride forward, NSS has finally settled the national debate on counterstrike capability, whose roots can be traced back to the mid-1950s. One of the priority agenda now should be a better integrated command and control system with the US. Seamless coordination between ministries and agencies, national and local governments is important.
In the wake of the Ukraine conflict, Kishida succeeded in positioning Japan as the foremost flag-bearer of the rules-based international order. As the stakes are high, the new strategic documents lay the transformational steps to enable Japan to walk the talk.
Titli Basu is associate fellow, Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses
The views expressed are personal